My grandmother lived on the southeast coast of England, facing the North Sea. Her cottage sat just yards from the beach, perched high on the cliffs, with a low brick wall separating it from the coast road. Grandma’s house had no electricity, no gas, and no plumbing. She had been stone-deaf since a child, when a schoolmate threw a slate at her head. She must have been horrified that summer of 1945, when informed that five of her grandchildren were being evacuated from war-torn London and were descending on her to stay for the summer.
At first we were all taken aback by the lack of amenities, but after a while we got used to the routines. Every morning we tramped down the garden path to the alleyway, then up to the well to draw water in large, heavy buckets and carry them back to the house.
Grandma cooked everything over a coal fire. We used rain water from a barrel to wash our hair. There was no bathroom, so we used the outhouse, which was down the garden path, across the alley and into the field. At night we used chamber pots that had to be emptied the next day.
We had oil lamps to light our way up the narrow staircase. There were no such things as computers, video games or TV and no electricity for a radio, so we had to make our own entertainment. The contrast to our homes in London was absolute, and would horrify today’s teenager, but to us, the quiet and peace of the English countryside after the desperate months of Hitler’s lethal bombardments was paradise.
We were surrounded by fields, farms and open grassland. A half hour’s walk got us to an isolated little shop that sold a bit of everything, and was a delight to explore. There we could find painted seashells and scented soap, postcards and decorated china thimbles, buckets and spades to make sandcastles on the beach. Candy was on ration, but the shop sold cherry-flavored throat lozenges. Since they were medicine they were off-ration, and hungry for something sugary sweet we spent our allowance on packets of them.
Smuggling our booty back into the cottage past Grandma’s eagle eye, we climbed the stairs and avidly consumed the lozenges. We spent most of the night being violently sick, taking turns to throw up in the wash basin and the chamber pots. By some miracle we all survived, but to this day I can’t stand the sight of a throat lozenge.
Although the Pennyfoot Hotel is far more luxurious than my grandmother’s cottage, those memories served me well when describing life in Edwardian England. I knew what it was like to live without any of the modern conveniences we enjoy today. I had experienced it firsthand. Until the next time,